Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

The Media and Drugs: A Long Way Still to Go [EDITORIAL]

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
One of our rituals in the United States is the annual release of two major national surveys of drug use -- the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), carried out by the federal government, and Monitoring the Future (MTF), federally funded but performed by researchers at the University of Michigan. MTF, which has queried 8th, 10th and 12th graders about their drug use rates and their perceptions about drugs (illicit as well and licit drugs) since the '70s, came out with their annual survey results yesterday morning. Unfortunately, one tends to derive very different impressions when reading the sober (so to speak) discussions provided by MTF's scientists, vs. the alarmingly written materials disseminated by government agencies to the press.

The drug news for 2013 was actually fairly good, at least overall. Use of most drugs was steady or even declined. One of MTF's two press releases noted that youth cigarette smoking has declined! Young people have also become more cautious when it comes to use of synthetic drugs as well, according to the other release -- the direction of change in use rates varies by age group, but it's a positive sign. Much of the discussion in the media, however, was about marijuana use. Use by seniors declined in 2013, relative to 2012, but use of marijuana by 8th and 10th graders increased.

As a chart from the MTF report that I've pasted below shows, though, it didn't increase by very much. More importantly, it didn't reach a level out of line with the rates surveyed for those age groups during the past few decades. It's a far lower rate, in fact, than when MTF first started surveying. The most recent qualitative discussion about marijuana use was published last February, in a historical report using data through 2012. It soberly noted both upturns and downturns in annual and daily use levels among the age students surveyed: including declines during 2006 through 2008; increases in 2010; mixed developments in 2011; and decreases or leveling off in 2012. All of the 2013 numbers for marijuana are very close to those found for 2012.

Enter the drug czar. In remarks accompanying a video prepared for the media, Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske proclaimed, "These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people." Kerlikowske took a swipe at marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington too, an article from the McClatchy news service notes, also claiming medical marijuana has made it easier for young people to obtain the drug. But there is mixed evidence for that at best. For example, a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that medical marijuana laws "have not measurably affected adolescent marijuana use in the first few years after their enactment," though noting that what happens in the short-term does not necessarily tell us what may happen in the long term.

Use of any psychoactive substance by teenagers is a legitimate concern, even marijuana. But the drug czar's hyperbolic characterizations don't match the substance of the report very well. His claims about the impact of liberalized marijuana policies also fall well short of providing any substantive analysis on the topic. That's not surprising for a politically appointed anti-drug official. But if it isn't very surprising that media would uncritically buy into it, it is disappointing to see it still happening on this issue in 2013. They could have printed the drug czar's comments, but also those of some independent voices. Or they could at least have looked at the actual report to see what its academics authors felt was important to highlight. Instead they ran a scare story -- just what the drug czar wanted.

Kids and marijuana use is just one of many drug policy areas in which mainstream media, despite some general improvement and increased interest in our side of the issue often still falls short. Here are some others:

  • Synthetic drugs are said to be growing in popularity, even as they arguably become less popular. An article in the Florida Sentinel described "bath salts" drugs as "increasing popular" in the article's header. One had to scroll down well into the article to find out that Florida has seen a one-third decrease in emergency room mentions in the state for bath salts.

    Florida law allows for up to five years imprisonment for possession of more than three grams of synthetic drugs -- a draconian policy that reporting like this unwittingly helps to foster. No mention is made in most such stories of the possibility for reducing the dangers of synthetic drugs through regulation rather than prohibition -- an approach taken in New Zealand, for example.
     
  • The attorneys general of 28 states have asked the FDA to reverse its approval of the drug Zohydro, a new form of the opioid painkiller hydrocodone. Articles about Zohydro have failed to note other articles reporting that crackdowns on pain pill diversion have cause heroin use to rebound, however, or to discuss the ways that some patients would benefit from Zohydro, for example by not chronically taking the other ingredient commonly included included in such medications, acetaminophen, which can damage the liver.

    Of course they also failed to discuss "opiophobia," the hesitance physicians often have to prescribe the needed doses of these medications or to prescribe them at all, even when they are painfully needed by the patients, such pain itself having other health harms if not treated well. Even as use of opioids has grown, undertreatment of pain also continues for many patients in many cases, and law enforcement has played a role in creating and sustaining that.
     
  • Lawmakers, including some who normally are good on drug policy, recently asked the US Sentencing Commission to toughen sentences for growing marijuana on public lands. Media reports reports failed to note the harsh sentences federal law already for provides marijuana growing, or the dubiousness of proposals to lengthen sentences in the country with the world's highest incarceration rate. Undoubtedly it will remain illegal to cultivate marijuana on public lands under legalization, at least without a permit and proper procedures for it. But that doesn't mean that longer prison terms is the way to address it, now or in the future.
     
  • Media have often gotten the nature of the federal-state conflict on marijuana legalization wrong. An otherwise strong article in the Washington Post last August, for example, carelessly claimed that the Colorado and Washington legalization initiatives "directly violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the production, possession and sale of marijuana."

    As I pointed out in a series of blog posts after the election, most legal scholars don't believe that the initiatives violate federal law or could be preempted in federal court, although one couldn't say for sure unless they got tested in court. Our federalist system is specifically designed for states to have different policies on the books than the federal government does, so long as their policies don't prevent the federal government from using its own resources to enforce federal policies. And the state laws don't do that, nor do they involve state employees in growing or distributing marijuana themselves. All they're doing is defining how the state will or won't use its own enforcement resources.

    Notably, no federal official has sought to overturn a state medical marijuana law in the 17 years since one was first enacted. The kinds of misconceptions that this kind of careless misstating on an important point of law in this evolving issue can have a chilling impact on the decisions made by lawmakers in other states as well as localities.
     
  • Perhaps the saddest type of story, that has continued with no change yet, is that of the mundane local drug bust. We don't even usually cover them here. But one recent story that I've selected at random is that of a New Jersey woman accused of marijuana in the mail. The reported 18 pounds is a lot, but it was probably worth just a fraction of the $72,000 that police in their typical act of exaggeration claimed it could get on the street. Maybe there's some reason I don't know that it could.

    But most unfortunate part of this -- and I don't blame the reporter for this at all, but it's important -- is the lack of reflection on whether it actually reduces the drug supply or actually helps anyone to do these busts (it doesn't), or what it means to arrest and incarcerate people, in many cases subjecting them to lengthy prison terms, over a substance that a majority of Americans now believe should actually be legal, and that more believe should at least be decriminalized. It's a moral issue that seems to be lost on most actors in the criminal justice system, though not all.

As we approach 2014, I've highlighted some continuing shortcomings in mainstream media coverage of drug issues, in part to illustrate why we believe it is still up to reformers to fund and make our own media -- a drumbeat sounding clear and true against the fear and misinformation, turning a few more heads every year and normalizing rational debate. I hope you will support our organization to financially be able to continue in 2014.

Sentencing Bills Before Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be working on a trio of sentencing reform bills Thursday. Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is attempting to create a comprehensive sentencing bill that will attract bipartisan support.

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Pat Leahy
The three bills are the Smarter Sentencing Act (Senate Bill 1410), the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act (Senate Bill 1675), and the Justice Safety Valve Act (Senate Bill 619).

The Smarter Sentencing Act expands mandatory minimum sentencing reform by making the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive and reducing the length of many mandatory sentences by half.

The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act would increase good time credits for rehabilitative programs, while the Justice Safety Valve Act would allow judges to sentence below mandatory minimums if certain circumstances are present.

The bills are backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, drug reform, and faith groups, as well as conservative and law enforcement and victim rights groups.

The hearing is set for 10:00am EDT Thursday. You can watch it online here.

Washington, DC
United States

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes Michigan Senate

In one of its final acts of the 2013 session, the Michigan Senate last Thursday passed a bill that would allow drug testing of some welfare recipients for "reasonable suspicion." The bill passed the GOP-dominated chamber on a straight party line vote.

The measure is Senate Bill 275, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg Township). A similar measure passed the House in May. Neither bill has been approved by the other chamber, but both will still be alive and could pass next year.

The bill directs the state Department of Human Services to set up a three-county pilot project of drug screening and testing for the Family Independence Program, the state's program that provides cash assistance to poor families with children and pregnant women.

If the initial screening creates "reasonable suspicion" of drug use, recipients would be required to submit to a drug test. Those who tested positive would be referred for treatment, with a second positive test leading to loss of benefits.

"We have children going to school hungry every day without proper clothing because their parents are addicted to drugs and alcohol," claimed state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) in remarks reported by Michigan Live. "They receive welfare money but they don't spend it on their children. They spend it on their addiction."

The measure passed the Senate in a straight party-line vote. All Democrats opposed the measure despite winning an amendment that would allow children whose parents test positive for illegal drugs to continue receiving benefits through a third party, such as a guardian.

Drug testing has been a big issue for Michigan Republicans this year. Earlier this year, the legislature passed and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law a bill allowing the state to cut unemployment benefits to anyone who failed a pre-employment drug test.

Lansing, MI
United States

Teen Drug Use Survey Figures Spark Marijuana Debate [FEATURE]

This year's annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey on the habits of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Wednesday, and most of the results were uncontroversial. But with two states having already legalized marijuana for adults and opinion polls suggesting more and more Americans are ready to move ahead with legalization, battles are raging over the numbers on teen marijuana use and what they mean.

The survey found that for most drugs, teen use levels are stable or declining. Synthetic marijuana use was down, as was cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and the use of inhalants, synthetic stimulants, prescription opioids, salvia divinorum, and hallucinogens other than LSD.

Drugs where teen use levels were stable included LSD; amphetamines; Adderall, specifically; Ritalin, specifically; ecstasy; cocaine; crack; heroin; methamphetamine; crystal methamphetamine; sedatives; tranquilizers; Rohypnol; Ketamine; and steroids. For most of these drugs, use levels even in 12th grade were quite low. For instance, 2.2% of seniors reported using LSD, 2.3% reported using Ritalin, and 4.0% reported using ecstasy.

When it comes to marijuana, 23% of seniors said they smoked in the month prior to the survey, 18% of 10th graders did, too, and so did 12% of 8th graders. Some 6.5% of seniors reported daily use, as did 4.0% of 10th graders, and under 2% of 8th graders.

It helps to put those numbers in historical perspective. All of the numbers are above the historic lows in teen drug use reported at the end of the Reagan-Bush era in the early 1990s, but well below the historic highs in teen drug use reported in 1979, just before the Reagan-Bush era began.

For seniors, the all-time low for monthly use was 11.9% in 1992, but the recent high was 23.1% in 1999. This year's 22.7% is actually a decline of two-tenths of a percent from 2012, and in line with figures for the past decade showing rates hovering in the upper teens and low twenties. It's a similar story at the younger grade levels.

The survey also found that the notion that regular use of marijuana is harmful is losing favor among teens. Only 39.5% of seniors saw it as harmful, down from 44.1% last year, and down significantly from views over the past two decades.

Despite the relative flatness of the marijuana use numbers, some warned that the sky is falling, cherry-picking the numbers and warming to favored themes to support their points of view.

Ever since Reefer Madness days, teen marijuana use has worried the grown-ups.
"Let these numbers be a wakeup call to parents and decision-makers alike," said Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy advisor in the Obama Administration now serving as the director of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "There is no way to properly 'regulate' marijuana without allowing an entire industry to encourage use at a young age, to cast doubt on the science, and to make their products attractive -- just like Big Tobacco did for 50 years. Today's Big Marijuana is no different."

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Teens deserve to grow up in an environment where they are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and drug use never factors into that equation. Today's news demands that all of us recommit to bolstering the vital role prevention and involved parenting play in keeping young people safe, strong, and ready to succeed."

"This is not just an issue of increased daily use," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC -- the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- have gone up a great deal, from 3.75% 1995 to an average of 15% in today's marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago."

Volkow also latched onto figures showing that 12% of 8th graders had tried marijuana in their lives.

"We should be extremely concerned that 12% of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana," Volkow added. "The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life."

In 2012, MTF added questions about where students obtain marijuana. In states that have medical marijuana, 34% of pot-smoking seniors said one of the ways they got their marijuana was through someone else's prescription (recommendation). And 6% said they got it with their own recommendation.

"A new marijuana industry is forming in front of our eyes, and make no mistake about it: they are delighted their customers -- today's youth -- consider their product safe," remarked former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, a Project SAM cofounder. "The rise of legalization and medical marijuana has sent a message to young people that marijuana use is harmless and non-addictive."

But while the drug czar, Dr. Volkow, and Project SAM were sounding the tocsin about the threat of teen marijuana use, others reacted more calmly, taking solace from the findings that teen cigarette smoking and drinking, not to mention other drugs, had declined.

"These findings should put to rest any claims that reforming marijuana laws and discussing the benefits will somehow contribute to more teens using marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy."

The declines in teen cigarette smoking and drinking show that regulation -- not prohibition -- is the way to address substance use, Tvert said.

"Regulation clearly works and prohibition has clearly failed when it comes to protecting teens," he argued. "Regulating alcohol and tobacco has resulted in significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and we would surely see similar results with marijuana. At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA and other government agencies to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana could be a more effective approach to preventing teen use."

Medical Marijuana Update

Oregon's plan to regulate dispensaries statewide moves ahead, Washington state looks like it will let medical marijuana patients keep their personal grows, a new national certification program is announced, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Tuesday, Americans for Safe Access launched the Patient Focused Certification program, which will independently certify the quantity and reliability of medical marijuana products sold at licensed businesses. The program will be based on new quality standards set by the American Herbal Products Association and the American Herbal Pharmacopeia.

California

Last Thursday, the Shasta County planning commission voted to move forward with restrictions on medical marijuana grows. Planners voted 3-2 to limit outdoor gardens, placing restrictions on the number of plants allowed based on property size, among other considerations.

On Tuesday, Lake County supervisors approved a new cultivation ordinance. The unanimously approved ordinance bans outdoor grows within "community growth boundaries" and limits indoor grows to 100 square feet and 1,200 watts of lighting. Outdoor grows can't occur within a thousand feet of schools or other youth-oriented facilities and will be limited to six mature or 12 immature plants. The ordinance goes into effect 30 days from Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council continued to wrestle with the dispensary issue. Council members voted to direct the planning commission to consider a cap on dispensaries and setback restrictions. The city attorney is also asking for further clarity from the council, whose proposed restrictions have prevented him from drafting a workable ordinance. The city banned collectives of more than three persons last year, causing the number of dispensaries in the city to shrink from 55 to six.

Also on Tuesday, Tulare County supervisors adopted criteria providing general guidelines for law enforcement and county officials. This is a first step toward adopting regulations and restrictions on cultivation, which the county will take up next month. The guidelines call for grows and dispensaries to be licensed by the state and be nonprofit. They would also bar anyone with a felony conviction from being involved in a medical marijuana operation.

Colorado

Last Thursday, state health officials said they were considering lowering medical marijuana patient fees. Currently, patients pay $35 a year for their medical marijuana cards; the fee would drop to $15 under the proposal. That's because the state fund that pays for the patient registry is awash with more than $13 million in cash.

Guam

Last Thursday, a medical marijuana bill got a second public hearing. The measure, Bill 215, was supported by numerous members of the public, but Department of Public Health Director James Gillan said he couldn't support it because of the "administrative and regulatory burden" it imposes. The Committee on Health is still accepting written testimony on the measure and for those who wish they will keep their testimony confidential, and bill cosponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she was working on amendments based on feedback from the hearings.

Illinois

Last Friday, Illinois officials unveiled a new web site to provide information on medical marijuana. The state's new medical marijuana law goes into effect January 1, and the website provides information about implementation updates, draft and final administrative rules, application forms, FAQ's, press releases and other materials related to medical marijuana.

On Monday, state financial regulators filed a complaint against the doctor who runs Wicker Park's first medical marijuana business. Dr. Brian Murray of Good Intentions LLC is accused of accepting fees from potential patients before establishing a "legitimate physician-patient relationship," which is required under state law. He was charging patients $99 before their evaluations, which can't be done before the law goes into effect. Good Intentions manager Daniel Reid slammed the complaint, calling it "utterly false, entirely speculative and anti-patient."

Massachusetts

Last Thursday, the Department of Public Health announced the members of the committee to review medical marijuana business applications. The complete list of names is at the link. The committee will be charged with evaluating and scoring 100 applications submitted for up to 35 medical marijuana dispensary licenses.

New Jersey

Last Thursday, the Assembly Health Committee approved an expansion of the medical marijuana program that would allow patients to buy the drug in another state and use it in New Jersey. The bill, Assembly Bill 4537, now heads to the full Assembly, but faces a veto threat from Gov. Chris Christie (R).

Oregon

Last Wednesday, a committee approved draft rules for state-regulated dispensaries. They include onerous security requirements, hefty fees, and criminal background checks. The application process for state-regulated dispensaries will begin on March 3.

Washington

Last Thursday, the state Liquor Control Board signaled it would recommend medical marijuana patients could keep their personal grows though not at the same plant quantity levels as law currently allows. State officials including staff of the Board had proposed eliminating the patient grows as part of the adoption of general marijuana legalization, which does not include the right to grow your own. But that proved hugely unpopular with patients. The board is expected to formalize its support for patient grows with a vote this week.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM -- December 18, 2013

They may be smoking more pot in Washington state than anyone thought, the Florida medical marijuana signature-gathering campaign is going down to the wire, opium production is up in the Golden Triangle, and aerial eradication is down in Colombia (after planes get blown out of the sky). And more. Let's get to it:

Aerial spraying of coca plants is on hold in Colombia after the FARC shot down two planes this fall. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Reason-Rupe Poll Has Support for Marijuana Legalization at 49%. In the latest Reason-Rupe poll, 49% of respondents favored legalizing marijuana, with 47% opposed. That puts it on the low side of recent polls on the topic, most of which are now showing majorities for legalization now. The poll found majority support among Democrats (55%) and independents (51%), but not Republicans (37%). Click on the link for more demographic and methodological details.

NYC Lobbyist Forms Marijuana Legalization PAC. The New York City lobbying and consulting firm Sheinkopf LTD, headed by Hank Sheinkopf, has registered a political action committee to advocate for marijuana legalization. The "Legalize Now" PAC was registered this week with the New York State Board of Elections. Both medical marijuana and legalization bills are pending in the legislature.

Washington State Marijuana Consumption Twice Previous Estimate, RAND Says. Marijuana consumption is about twice as much as officials had previously thought, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Consumption had been estimated to be about 85 metric tons in 2013, but the new study says the range is between 135 and 225 metric tons, with 175 metric tons as the median.

Medical Marijuana

Clock is Ticking on Florida Initiative. Time is running short for Florida's United for Care medical marijuana initiative. Organizers have until February 1 to gather 683,189 valid voter signatures, and say they have gathered 700,000 raw signatures, but only 162,866 have been certified as of Tuesday. Organizers are assuming a 25% rejection rate, so they are looking to gather a million signatures by deadline day.

Harm Reduction

Jack Fishman Dead at 83; Helped Create Naloxone.A scientist who played a key role in the development of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone has died. Dr. Jack Fishman died earlier this month at age 83. Naloxone (Narcan) is credited with saving countless people from overdoses of heroin and other opioid drugs. Naloxone has been approved to treat overdoses since 1971, but only some states allow it to be distributed to drug users, community support groups, and local health clinics.

Sentencing

New Brennan Center Proposal Aims to Reduce Mass Incarceration. The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute based at the NYU School of Law, has unveiled a new policy proposal to shrink prison populations, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration. It was discussed last week at the National Press Club in Washington by a panel including Jim Bueerman of the Police Foundation, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations.

International

Golden Triangle Opium Production Up, UNODC Says. Opium production in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle (Laos, Myanmar, Thailand) is up 22% this year over 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday in its Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 - Lao PDR, Myanmar. Most of the production is in Myanmar, which produced 870 of the regions estimated 893 tons. The Golden Triangle accounted for 18% of global opium production this year, the report said.

Colombia Coca Spraying Halted After FARC Shoots Down Two US Pilots, One Killed. US-funded aerial eradication of coca crops in Colombia has been suspended indefinitely after FARC rebels shot down two spray planes, leaving one US pilot dead. The downings occurred in September and October, but the news that the FARC shot them down and that the program had been suspended didn't come until this week.

Mexican Human Rights Commission Warns Government on Anti-Cartel Vigilantes. Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights warned Tuesday that the rise of vigilante groups to confront drug trafficking organizations undermines the rule of law and could lead to increased violence. The commission blamed the rise of the vigilantes on the government's failure to provide security and accused the government of encouraging the formation of some of the groups. The commission said there were some 7,000 vigilante members in Guerrero alone, with thousands more in Michoacan, where dozens have been killed in clashes among vigilantes, police, soldiers, and drug traffickers.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More cops with pain pill problems, one who seemed like he was headed to (or from) a party, and a Texas parole officer gets too tight with a parolee. Let's get to it:

In Kaplan, Louisiana, a Gueydan police officer was arrested last Thursday after he was pulled over with a virtual party supply in his vehicle. Officer Kenneth Martin, 26, was found with a half-ounce of marijuana, 19 hydrocodone pills, an open bottle of liquor, and a semi-automatic handgun. He was charged with vehicle equipment violation, possession with the intent to distribute marijuana, possession with the intent to distribute a schedule III narcotic, open alcoholic container, possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance and obstruction of justice.

In Houston, a former Texas state parole officer was convicted last Tuesday on federal charges she accepted bribes from a parolee heroin dealer in return for warning him of police investigations. Crystal Washington, 53, was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, plus conspiracy to commit extortion. She's looking at up to 60 years in prison, but is free on bond, with an electronic monitor attached to her ankle.

In Oakland, a former San Luis Obispo police officer was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal prison for taking cash and pain pills from people he was supposed to be investigating as part of the department's drug task force. Cody Pierce, 40, had copped earlier to one count of extortion. In return for the cash and pain pills, he gave them fake oxycodone pills that they could sell.

In Hartford, Connecticut, a former state prison guard was sentenced Monday to three years probation for trying to smuggle oxycodone into the prison. Arcolain Fountain, 47, got caught in a sting buying what he thought was oxycodone from an undercover officer with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force. He planned to smuggle the pills into his place of employment, the Cheshire Correctional Institution. He pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, according to federal court officials.

Chronicle AM -- December 17, 2013

Seattle and Denver get down to the nitty-gritty of dealing with the details of marijuana legalization, a conservative Southern congressman comes out for medical marijuana, Detroit cops go on mass raids, and a British TV debate over drug policy gets heated. And more. Let's get to it:

Matthew Perry (l) squares off against Peter Hitchens (r) in fiery BBC Newsnight drug debate.
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Facing Backlog for Pot Shop Employee Licensing. Colorado marijuana retail employees are required to undergo criminal and financial background checks and be fingerprinted before being issued a state badge to work in the industry, but there is a large backlog of would-be employees trying to get through the process. State officials say they are trying to speed up the process. The first stores are supposed to open in two weeks on January 1. Do convenience store clerks who sell beer and wine have to go through this?

Denver City Council Approves Decriminalization for Tweeners. The Denver city council voted Monday night to decriminalize pot possession for 18-to-20-year-olds. The move addresses a quirk in the law that left the age group subject to jail time for simple possession while those 21 and over can legally possess it and those under 18 are not prosecuted but sent to a juvenile assessment.

Seattle City Council Sets $27 Fine for Public Pot Smoking. The Seattle city council voted Monday to set fines for public pot smoking at $27. Seattle police will issue warnings "whenever practicable" instead of issuing the citation. The fine amount is the same as the fine for public drinking.

Philadelphia Smoke Down Prohibition Activist Sentenced to One Year Probation. Comedian NA Poe was sentenced to one year probation last Friday after being arrested in May during the Smoke Down Prohibition X marijuana legalization at Independence Hall National Historic Park. He was arrested after leading a countdown and lighting a joint in an act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors had sought three years' probation with special conditions. Two other Smokedown activists, Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn, who face similar charges, had their trials postponed until January 23.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Republican Congressman Says State Should Consider Medical Marijuana. US Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has called on state officials to consider whether medical marijuana could help children who suffer from seizures. Jones' comments came after he was approached by the parents of several children with life-threatening diseases. Jones has a lifetime 85% approval score from the American Conservative Union.

Law Enforcement

Detroit Cops in Massive Anti-Drug Sweep. For the third time in recent weeks, Detroit are doing a massive sweep of a drug-battered neighborhood. More than 300 are sweeping a 1.2 square mile area, executing search warrants, and seeking probation and parole violators. Today's raid, Operation Mistletoe, will be followed by food donations to residents, cops said. Police reported 37 drug and other arrests by late afternoon.

International

Matthew Perry, Peter Hitchens in Fiery British TV Drug Debate. Actor Matthew Perry sparred with British anti-drug campaigner Peter Hitchens (brother of the late Christopher Hitchens) in a furious live TV debate on drug policy on BBC's Newsnight Monday night. Hitchens scoffed at the notion of addiction as a disease, while Perry touted the utility of drug courts. Click on the link for more details.

Uruguay's Mujica, Wife in Diplomatic Spat with INCB

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has certainly gotten attention on the world stage since his country legalized marijuana commerce last week, and not all of it has been favorable. The United Nations bureaucrats charged with maintaining adherence to global drug prohibition have been quick to criticize, and now Mujica and his wife, Uruguayan Senator Lucia Topolansky, have fired back.

Uruguayan President Mujica strikes back at critics, and so does his wife. (gob.uy)
Two of the three UN drug control bureaucracies, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) came out with quick criticisms of the Uruguayan move, with UNODC head Yuri Fedotov calling the decision to legalize marijuana there "unfortunate" in a statement two days after the vote.

But it was the INCB that leveled the harshest criticisms, and it was INCB that drew the barbed retorts from Montevideo's first couple.

"Uruguay is breaking international conventions on drug control with the cannabis legislation approved by its congress," INCB complained in a press release last Wednesday. The INCB qualified itself as "surprised" that Uruguay had "knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty."

In the statement under the signature of INCB head Raymond Yans, the INCB also "regrets that the government of Uruguay did not respond to INCB to engage in a dialogue prior to further consideration of the law."

"Tell that old man to stop lying," Mujica retorted in an interview Saturday with Uruguay's Canal 4. "Let him come to Uruguay and meet me whenever he wishes… Anybody can meet and talk to me, and whoever says he couldn't meet with me tells lies, blatant lies. Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense," he added.

Mujica also accused the INCB of relative quiescence before the legalization of marijuana in two US states and accused him of having double standards. "Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world's strong countries?" he asked pointedly. [Ed: INCB did criticize the Colorado and Washington votes.]

Neither was Sen. Topolansky one to sit quietly by while her husband was under attack.

"Who is this fellow that likes to call names to countries?" she said of Yans. "I think he crossed the line, but anyhow, I believe that he has had problems with other countries, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and they will be meeting him sometime in March."

Topolansky was presumably referring to recently leaked documents revealing deep divisions on what to do about drug policy among UN members, where a number of countries have asked that the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs be opened to discussion of paradigm-shifting reforms.

It's not as easy being the head of a UN anti-drug bureaucracy as it used to be.

Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- December 16, 2013

Uruguay's president defends marijuana legalization there and finds an ally, marijuana bills are popping up in some surprising countries, the Justice Department says we have a federal prison crisis, and much more. Let's get to it:

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has some harsh words for his critics and finds some support, too.
Marijuana Policy

Denver City Council Takes Up Decriminalization for 18-to-20-Year-Olds. The Denver city council will today vote on whether to decriminalize marijuana possession for people between the ages of 18 and 20. Councilman Albus Brooks, who is pushing the measure, said it would address an inequity in how offenses are currently prosecuted. Juveniles with small amounts are not arrested, but instead sent to a juvenile assessment center, and adults 21 and over who violate the city's pot laws face only small fines, but people over 17 but younger than 21 face up to a year in jail. Brooks' bill would treat the under-21s like those over 21.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Debate in St. Louis Wednesday. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation executive director John Payne will debate Jason Grellner of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association Wednesday night in St. Louis. Click on the link for details. Show-Me Cannabis Regulation is attempting to get a legalization initiative on the 2014 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Public Hearing on New York Medical Marijuana Bill on Long Island Wednesday. The New York Assembly Health Committee will hold hearings on pending medical marijuana legislation Wednesday on Long Island. Click the link for time and place details.

Illinois Launches Medical Marijuana Information Website. Illinois state officials have launched a new website described as the "central location" for information on new medical marijuana laws that go into effect January 1. The public can learn about implementation updates, draft and final administrative rules, application forms, FAQ's, press releases and other materials related to medical cannabis on the site.

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Dispensary Selection Committee Named. The Department of Public Health last Thursday named the members of a committee that will review 100 applicants for up to 35 dispensaries. Click on the link to see the complete list.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Welfare Drug Testing Law Could Be Costly. A new state law requiring welfare recipients with past felony drug convictions to submit to drug tests "could end up costing taxpayers far more than it saves" while burdening poor families with complex paperwork they could find it difficult to comply with, county officials and advocacy groups said. The law contains costly local mandates and complicated rules that apply only to a tiny fraction of state welfare recipients. Only 0.4% of Minnesota welfare recipients have felony drug convictions, compared to 1.2% among the adult population overall. "I don't think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money," said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County. "This is punitive."

Defense Department Now Testing for Synthetic Marijuana. The Defense Department has begun testing for synthetic cannabinoids in its random drug testing program, the head of the program said Friday. "The message we're getting out now is that when you participate in our random urinalysis program, synthetic marijuana products or synthetic marijuana will now be tested along with our other drugs," Army Lt. Col. Tom Martin said. Fake weed had been showing up in 2.5% of drug tests in a random study conducted by the Army, he added.

Sentencing

Justice Department Identifies "Growing Crisis" in Federal Prison System as "Increasingly Critical Threat." An Office of the Inspector General report issued last week, Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice-2013, identified a number of challenges facing the department, but singled out "the growing crisis in the federal prison system" as an "increasingly critical threat" to the department's ability to fulfill its mission. The crisis is two-fold, the report says: escalating costs of running the prison system and rising security and safety issues due to chronic overcrowding. The department identified sentencing reform initiatives and the Smart on Crime initiative as responses, but noted that their impacts are still unclear.

Cornyn Introduces Federal Prison Reform Bill. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) last week introduced the Federal Prison Reform Act (Senate Bill 1783), which would allow nonviolent, low-risk offenders to complete work, education, skills training, or rehabilitation programs in order to earn up to half of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house. Cornyn is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill has been referred.

International

Uruguay's President Has Harsh Words for INCB Head. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica fought back this weekend after Raymond Yans, head of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) criticized Uruguay's decision to legalize marijuana and said it had failed to consult with the board. "Tell that old man to stop lying," Mujica said in an interview with Uruguay's Canal 4. "Let him come to Uruguay and meet me whenever he wishes… Anybody can meet and talk to me, and whoever says he couldn't meet with me tells lies, blatant lies. Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense," he added. Mujica noted the INCB's relative quiescence before the legalization of marijuana in two US states and accused him of having double standards. "Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world's strong countries?"; he asked.

Guatemalan President Supports Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. At a Central American summit in Panama City Saturday, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called Uruguay's marijuana legalization "an important step" that could serve as "a pilot plan" in the regional war against drug trafficking. "I think the step Uruguay took is an important one and is a valuable experience," Pérez Molina said. "It could serve as a pilot plan for all of Latin America, and we hope it will be an experience that eventually all countries can adopt," he added.

Israeli Knesset Passes Medical Marijuana Bill. The Knesset Sunday approved an updated version of Israel's medical marijuana law that will centralize marijuana collection and increase the number of doctors allowed to prescribe it. Some medical marijuana growers and patients aren't happy with the centralization, saying that direct contact between patients and growers is important.

Slovenia Parliament Will Discuss Marijuana Legalization Bills. After a pro-legalization citizens' initiative succeeded in forcing parliament to take up the issue, the Slovenian parliament will hold formal hearings on three legalization bills. It's not clear when that will happen.

Sri Lanka Government Will Submit Medical Marijuana Bill. Sri Lanka's minister of indigenous medicine, Salinda Dissanayake, said Saturday he will submit a bill to parliament to allow marijuana to be used as medicine. The bill would amend the country's Ayurveda Act, which deals with traditional medicine. The same ministry had tried in 2008 to get permission to grow marijuana as medicine, but that didn't happen.

Two More Drug War Deaths

A Minnesota man died late last month after being arrested on drug charges, and a Washington state man was shot and killed late last week in a drug bust gone bad. Philip Derks of St. Paul and as yet unnamed Wenatchee, Washington, man become the 37th and 38th persons to die in US domestic drug law operations so far this year.

In the Washington case, according to the Wenatchee World News, citing police sources, members of the Columbia River Drug Task Force had made repeated undercover drug buys from the man, then used uniformed police to pull him over in a traffic stop. The man pulled into a Taco Bell drive-in lane, and a police car pulled in behind him.

"The officer exited the vehicle and contacted the suspect," said Trooper Darren Wright of the State Patrol, which is conducting the investigation into the killing. "A struggle ensued and resulted in the shooting."

Wright said it was not clear if the man had a gun, or if he had fired any shots. He said the unnamed police officer shot more than one shot.

The mid-afternoon shooting at the popular fast-food restaurant resulted in the victim's vehicle rolling forward and striking an occupied pick-up truck in the parking lot. No injuries were reported there.

No word on what drugs the task force was chasing.

{Update: The man has been identified as Robert Harris, 43, of Wenatchee. The coroner reported he died of multiple gunshot wounds. Still no word on whether he had a gun.]

In the Minnesota case, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philip Derks, 32, had been arrested on November 28 along with the driver of the vehicle in which he was riding after police who stopped them for a traffic violation saw a plastic baggie containing an unknown substance being thrown from the vehicle.

A preliminary field test identified the substance as methamphetamine, and Derks and his companion were taken to the Ramsey County Jail. Within a half hour of their arrival at the jail, Derks' friend alerted jail staff that he needed medical attention. Jail staff wrote that he didn't appear to be under duress, but was fidgety and starting to sweat.

Jail staff moved him to a segregation cell for closer observation after he mentioned Adderall but "refused to answer other questions." Derks grew "even more restless, became very pale, and was sweaty," staff noted before transporting him to a local hospital.

Derks died in the hospital about 18 hours after arriving there. His friend told sheriff's deputies that Derks had swallowed an unknown amount of drugs to hide them from police when they had been pulled over the previous day.

Chronicle AM -- December 13, 2013

It looks like Washington state medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to grow their own, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes wants to welcome pot tourists, the Michigan Senate takes aim at welfare drug users, Indian Maoists are profiting from prohibition, and more. Let's get to it:

India's Maoist Naxalities -- profiting from prohibition. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Seattle City Attorney Wants to Accommodate Pot Tourists. Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes has warned the city council against passing rules that will make it harder for tourists to enjoy legal marijuana. "We need to recognize that tourists are coming to this state to sample wine, to sample Washington marijuana, to sample any of the attributes of this destination city; that we accommodate that somehow," he told KPLU FM.

Medical Marijuana

Washington State Leaning Toward Allowing Home Medical Marijuana Grows. Members of the state Liquor Control Board signaled Friday they will recommend medical marijuana patients continue to be allowed to grow their own medicine. The state Health and Revenue departments and the liquor board had earlier proposed outlawing home growing once I-502 takes effect, but aroused a storm of outrage from patients and their supporters. The board is expected to formally recommend allowing the grows next week.

Colorado Could Cut Patient Fees. State health officials want to reduce the fee paid by licensed medical marijuana patients. The Board of Health will hear a proposal next week to drop the annual fee from $35 to $15. That's because the fund that pays for the patient registry has a $13 million surplus, and the fee is not supposed to be about generating revenue, just paying for the costs of the program. There are nearly 113,000 registered patients in the state.

Second Hearing Held on Guam Medical Marijuana Bill. A pending medical marijuana bill on Guam got a second public hearing Thursday. The island's public health director said he could not support the bill because there was no funding for regulation, but patients and medical marijuana supporters testified in support of the bill. The measure, Senate Bill 215, remains alive, and cosponsor Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she was working on amendments based on feedback from the public.

Drug Testing

Michigan Senate Approves Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Michigan Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 275, which would set up a pilot program to start subjecting some welfare recipients to drug testing. Recipient would be screened and those for whom there was "a reasonable suspicion" of drug use would have to submit to a drug test. A first failed drug test would result in a referral to treatment, a second would result in loss of benefits. The Republican-supported bill passed on a straight party line vote. Similar legislation has been approved in the House.

Sentencing

Report Reviews Changes in Federal Sentencing Since Booker. A new report, Legal Change and Sentencing Norms in Federal Court: An Examination of the Impact of the Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough Decisions, finds that not that much has changed. A series of Supreme Court decisions beginning with Booker held that federal sentencing guidelines are merely advisory, and expectations were that their impact would be significant. But "the findings suggest that sentencing policy changes at the national level -- including reforms mandated by these cases -- neither uniformly nor dramatically transformed sentencing practices. Factors in individual cases were the largest predictor of sentencing outcomes over all time periods. Sentencing behavior across districts changed incrementally over time but did not dramatically shift during major policy changes."

International

Indian Maoists (Again) Linked to Black Market Marijuana Trade. India's long-festering revolutionary Maoist movement, the Naxalites, is once again linked to the illicit trade in drugs. Officials in Odisha are complaining that they cannot eradicate the Naxalites until they "have control over the illegal cultivation of cannabis, which, according to intelligence sources, has become a major source of funding for the Maoists." Six of eight named districts where large-scale pot growing is "a well known fact" are known as "highly Naxal-infested districts." The state government is engaged in manual eradication, but is considering aerial spraying.

Costa Rica Public Opinion Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Costa Rica is not ready to legalize marijuana, according to a new public opinion poll. The survey from the School of Statistics at the University of Costa Rica found that only 15% favored legalization, while 50% were opposed. Medical marijuana fared better, with 53% in favor.

British Activist to Open "Cannabis Café" in Manchester. Notorious marijuana activist Colin Davies, who once handed a bouquet of flowers including marijuana to the queen, has announced plans to open a cannabis café in Manchester. Davis, who was once jailed for marijuana trafficking, said no pot would be sold at the café; instead it will be BYOB. Marijuana remains a Class B drug in Britain, so Davis should be looking for a police reaction.

Chronicle AM -- December 12, 2013

A push is on to end the federal ban on needle exchange funding, a secret federal panel meets to discuss marijuana banking issues, UN anti-drug bureaucrats are still unhappy with Uruguay, more bodies show up in Mexico, and more. Let's get to it:

A move is on to end the federal ban on funding needle exchanges.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Banking Panel Meets on Pot Sales. The Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group (BSAAG) met in Washington, DC, Thursday to discuss how to deal with banking issues related to medical marijuana and legal marijuana industries. Under current federal laws, marijuana sellers can't set up bank accounts or process credit card transaction because financial institutions fear being implicated in drug trafficking or money laundering cases. The meeting is closed-door, and there is no word yet on what, if anything, was decided.

One Year In, Coloradans Still Like Marijuana Legalization. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week found that Coloradans still support marijuana legalization. The poll found 53% agreed that marijuana use should be legal. It will be interesting to see the poll numbers a year from now, when Coloradans have had time to experience a legal marijuana industry. That begins on January 1.

Washington State Regulators Want to Ban Pot Smoking Wherever Alcohol is Sold. The state Liquor Control Board, which is also in charge of legal marijuana commerce, has proposed banning marijuana consumption in businesses licensed for liquor sales, but a Wednesday meeting saw loud opposition, in particular from Frankie Schnarr, owner of Frankie's Sports Bar and Grill in Olympia. Schnarr years ago emerged victorious in a battle with the board over whether he could open the second floor of his bar to smokers, who joined a "club" for the privilege. Schnarr opened his club to pot smokers after I-502 passed, and now claims 13,500 club members. Schnarr and others said the proposed rule was aimed directly at him. The board will vote on the proposed rule next week.

Philadelphia "Smoke Down Prohibition" Marijuana Prosecutions Continue, So Will Demonstrations. Comedian NA Poe will be sentenced Friday in federal court for smoking pot at Independence Hall as part of Philly NORML's ongoing Smoke Down Prohibition demonstrations. Two more members of the "Liberty Bell 4," Chris Goldstein and Don Dezarn will go on trial next week for puffing pot in demos this past summer, while a fourth, US Marine veteran Mike Whiter will make his first court appearance on similar federal charges. Click on the link for more details and how you can participate.

Gov. Cuomo Dismisses New York Legalization Bill as "Non-Starter." Well, that didn't take long. Yesterday, state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) announced she was introducing a marijuana legalization bill. That same day, a Cuomo spokesman scoffed at the bill, calling it "a non-starter."

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Wins Assembly Committee Vote. A bill that would allow Garden State medical marijuana patients to buy the drug in other states and bring it back with them passed the Assembly Health Committee on a 7-4 vote Thursday. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) has said he will veto it or any other expansion of the state's program.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Docs, Scientists Call for End to Federal Needle Exchange Funding Ban. In the wake of the budget agreement announced this week by congressional negotiators, more than 70 Maryland-based doctors and scientists sent an open letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) urging her to act to get the longstanding ban on federal needle exchange funding lifted. The ban had been overturned in 2010, but was reinstated without any public debate during budget negotiations the following year.

Pain Pills

State Attorneys General Call on FDA to Reconsider Zohydro Approval. The FDA is running into more flak over its October decision to approve the first hydrocodone-only drug in America, Zohydro, which will be available in a time-release form. Four US senators challenged the decision earlier this week, and now, 28 state attorneys general have asked the agency to reconsider. They cited the roll-out of earlier pain relieving drugs in time-release formulas, which they said resulted in "overzealous pharmaceutical sales" and "doctors overprescribing narcotics," among other ills. But Attorneys General are typically trained as lawyers, not doctors or pharmacists, and they seem oblivious to the continuing problem of undertreatment of pain that their campaigns foster. The FDA said it would reply directly to the law enforcement officials.

International

UNODC Criticizes Uruguay Marijuana Legalization. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) isn't happy with Uruguay. The South American nation's decision to legalize marijuana is a blow against international cooperation in the war on drugs, said UNODC head Yuri Fedotov. "Just as illicit drugs are everyone's shared responsibility, there is a need for each country to work closely together and to jointly agree on the way forward for dealing with this global challenge," he said in a statement. He also called the move "unfortunate."

More Mass Graves in Mexico. Authorities in the central Mexican state of Morelos have uncovered two mass graves containing at least 20 bodies. Authorities believe some of the bodies are victims of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which was largely dismantled two years ago. Others were apparently killed more recently. The discovery comes on the heels of a similar gruesome find in western Michoacan state, where the latest count had 66 bodies removed from mass graves there. More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Mexico's prohibition-related violence since 2006 and tens of thousands more have disappeared, including more than a thousand in the past two years in Moreleos, according to the state human rights commission.

Medical Marijuana Update

A busy Tuesday in California, herbal medicine experts make a call, New Jersey's third dispensary opens, Florida's Supreme Court hears a challenge to an initiative, and more. Let's get to it:

National

On Wednesday, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia classified marijuana as a botanical medicine. Americans for Safe Access called it "an historic move" that will "lay the scientific foundation for quality assurance and expanded research." The American Herbal Pharmacopeia is the world's leading expert organization on herbal medicines.

California

On Tuesday, Fresno County supervisors took a first step toward banning grows. The board voted unanimously for a total ban, rejecting a second option that would have banned outdoor cultivation and allowed limited indoor cultivation. A final vote is expected on January 7.

Also on Tuesday, about 200 people showed up for a Lake County Board of Supervisors meeting to provide input on a proposed new cultivation ordinance. The county's interim ordinance, passed last summer, linked plant numbers to parcel size and banned cultivation on vacant lots, but placed no limit on indoor grows. The proposed ordinance would go further, banning outdoor cultivation in community growth boundaries and limiting indoor cultivation to 100 square feet with indoor lighting not to exceed 1,200 watts. Outside of community growth boundaries, plant numbers are capped at six mature or 12 immature plants on parcels larger than one acre. A vote is expected at next week's board meeting.

Also on Tuesday, the Long Beach city council punted on providing new guidelines for where dispensaries can operate. With only two-thirds of members present, the council decided to wait until next week to deal with the issue. The council had earlier proposed a raft of restrictions on dispensary locations, but city staff said they were unworkable.

Also on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County supervisors voted to push large grows out of the urban areas. Under the new rules, only 100-square foot personal grows are allowed in residential areas, while rural properties of less than five acres can grow 1,000 square feet, and larger parcels can grow up to 3,000 square feet.

Also on Tuesday, Butte County supervisors amended their cultivation ordinance to require each lot with a garden to have an occupied residence with water and sewage and to increase civil penalties for violations to $500 a day for the first violation and $1,000 a day for subsequent ones. It's not going to stop there. The county says it will seek to reduce the number of plants allowed and enact other restrictions at the next board meeting in January.

Also on Tuesday, the San Jose city council rejected a ban on dispensaries, but voted instead to enact stricter enforcement rules. Effective immediately, dispensaries are barred from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, rec centers, libraries and other marijuana vendors, or within 500 feet of rehabilitation centers and 150 feet of residential properties. Dispensary advocates vowed to repeat a successfully signature drive that staved off implementation of new rules in 2011 if necessary.

On Wednesday, San Jose began enforcing the new regulations with a crackdown on dispensaries located next to residences. While the city had previously gone after clubs that drew complaints, it is now broadening enforcement and is sending letters to dispensaries located next to residences telling them to shut down or relocate.

Also on Wednesday, California NORML announced that a patient will file a petition to ask the state Supreme Court to review the recent Third District Appellate Court decision upholding the city of Live Oak's ban on medical marijuana cultivation. The patient is Live Oak resident James Maral, who suffers from a painful life- and limb-threatening condition caused by insufficient blood supply to muscles and nerves.

Colorado

Last Friday, a Loveland doctor was convicted of a criminal offense for recommending medical marijuana to an undercover police officer. Dr. Dallas Williams, 75, was arrested in March 2012 after the narc wore a wire to the doctor's office and said he needed marijuana for "severe pain." Prosecutors argued there was neither a proper assessment nor a proper doctor-patient relationship. He was convicted of attempting to influence a public servant.

Connecticut

Last Wednesday, the Watertown city council voted for a six-month moratorium on dispensaries. The city wants time to develop new regulations.

On Monday, the Wallingford planning and zoning commission voted for a nine-month moratorium on dispensaries. The moratorium will "give this commission time to determine how it wishes to deal with these uses," Corporate Counsel Janis Small said.

Florida

Last Thursday, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether a medical marijuana initiative should be approved to go on the ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) is seeking to have it disqualified on the grounds that the initiative language is misleading and that it would clash with federal law. But People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative argued that the initiative is clear. The high court will decide in a few weeks.

Massachusetts

On Tuesday, the Fairhaven planning board approved a medical marijuana zoning bylaw. The 7-1 vote marked a departure from the board's discussions just two months ago, when it voted to institute a temporary moratorium on all medical marijuana dispensaries in town, but now a dispensary wants to come to town. The vote must be approved by a town meeting.

Michigan

On Tuesday, three medical marijuana bills passed the House Judiciary Committee. One would allow the use of edibles, one would allow for dispensaries, and one would allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana -- if federal law ever changes. The legislature adjourns Thursday, so action on the first two is unlikely before then, but the third bill has already passed the Senate, so the House could vote on it before adjourning.

New Jersey

Last Wednesday, the state's third dispensary officially opened in Woodbridge. The Garden State Dispensary began registering patients last month, and 400 people have already purchased their medicine there. The other two medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey are located in Egg Harbor and Montclair.

Oregon

On Wednesday, the legislative panel charged with crafting statewide dispensary regulations held its final meeting.The committee has met since September to hammer out details such as security, background checks and marijuana testing. A draft version of the rules -- covered in 30 pages -- lays out requirements for Oregon's medical marijuana industry.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy. Cops on pain pills, crooked drug task force commanders, and more. Let's get to it:

In Sunrise, Florida, the Sunrise Police Department has opened an investigation into whether its highly lucrative drug stings broke the law. The investigation comes after the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that the department used the addresses of unwitting homeowners and a business when it created a fake company as part of its drug sting scheme. The newspaper earlier reported extensively on how the small-town department has made millions luring would-be cocaine buyers there and then seizing their cash and other goods.

In Maysville, Kentucky, a former Maysville police officer was indicted last Thursday on charges he stole money from a federal drug task force. Timothy Fegan, 52, is the former director of the Buffalo Trace-Gateway Narcotics Task Force. He is accused of stealing money seized in drug raids as well as cash kept on hand for drug buys. He's looking at up to 10 years in federal prison.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, a former Hanover County sheriff's lieutenant was indicted Monday on more than 120 criminal counts related to mishandling drug evidence and violating the department's policy on truthfulness after he got strung out on pain pills. Joey LeBlanc, who was second in command of the department's vice and narcotics unit, faces 28 counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud; four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses; four counts of embezzlement; four counts of altering, destroying, stealing evidence; four counts of obstruction of justice; 21 counts of misdemeanor possession of schedule II controlled substance; 28 counts of trafficking, 4 to 13 grams; 14 counts of trafficking, 14 to 27 grams; and one count of trafficking, 28 grams or more. His bond was set at $500,000.

In Atlanta, a former Newton County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Friday to carrying a weapon while selling drugs. Darrell Mathis copped to one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime after being busted for selling 2 ½ pounds of marijuana over a four-month period to a snitch and an undercover FBI agent. He made the sales while in uniform and armed, often showing up in his patrol car. The weapons charge in this case carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' incarceration, as well as a maximum fine of $250,000.

In Sparta, Wisconsin, a former La Crosse police officer pleaded guilty Monday on charges related to his theft of drugs from the evidence room. Brian Thompson copped to one count of felony attempted possession of a narcotic after being arrested in an August sting. After Thompson aroused suspicions, a police captain packed a duffel bag with clothes and a fake bottle of Oxycontin pills, which Thompson then stole.

In Birmingham, Alabama, the former head of the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force was sentenced last Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison for stealing money seized by the task force. Jeffrey Snyder, 55, pleaded guilty in June to stealing at least $125,000 over a two-year period ending in June 2012. Snyder had spent 29 years with the Tuscaloosa Police Department before retiring a year ago and commanded the task force since 2002.

In Houston, an ex-Harris County jailer was sentenced Monday to six months in jail at his former place of employment for smuggling drugs and cell phones into the jail. Patrick Perkins, 27, copped to one count of bringing prohibited items into a correctional facility and one count of drug possession after he agreed to take prescription pain pills to an inmate who was a snitch.

In San Luis Obispo, California, a former San Luis Obispo narcotics detective was sentenced Monday to 18 months in federal prison after he stole cash and drugs from people, used drugs on the job, and got himself addicted to pain pills. Cory Pierce was arrested in February. Now, all the narcs on the squad face random drug testing.

55% Say Legalize Marijuana in New California Field Poll

California's Field Poll is reporting majority support for marijuana legalization in the Golden State. The poll had support for generic marijuana legalization at 55% and, somewhat surprisingly, support for an actual initiative at 56%.

The Field Poll is in line with other recent polls showing California majorities in favor of legalization. A September Public Policy Institute of California poll had 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

In addition to the generic marijuana legalization question, the Field Poll asked specifically about the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 (CCHI), which would legalize all uses of marijuana and hemp for adults 21 and over. Support for that perennial and perennially under-funded initiative was at 56% statewide, reaching 70% in the San Francisco Bay area.

The CCHI won more support from Democrats (65%) and independents (62%) than Republicans (39%), and more support men (58%) than women (55%). Support was more likely among whites (60%) and blacks (55%) than among Latinos (46%) and more likely among young voters (64% for the 18-to-49 age group) than people in their 50s (50%) or over 65 (47%).

The CCHI isn't the only initiative out there. Two more are at the state attorney general's office awaiting approval to begin signature-gathering, including one filed last week by the Drug Policy Alliance, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act. But Field didn't ask about them.

The Field Poll, which has been tracking California voter attitudes since 1947, illustrates a dramatic shift on marijuana policy. In 1969, the first year the poll asked the question, only 13% supported legalization. By 1980, that number had climbed to 30%, and by 2010, it had reached 50%. Now, it's up another five points in the past three years.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 11, 2013

Uruguay legalizes the marijuana trade (and the usual suspects object), Denver provides a helpful guide to legalization there, Human Rights Watch scorches Louisiana for its AIDS-enhancing policies, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Denver Debuts Marijuana Legalization FAQ Web Site. The city of Denver has created a web site seeking to address questions from residents and visitors, parents and neighbors, business and property owners, and marijuana retailers and home growers about how legalization will work.

New York Marijuana Legalization Bill Announced. State Sen. Liz Kreuger (D-Manhattan) Wednesday unveiled a proposal to legalize and tax marijuana in the Empire State. Pot prohibition is "a policy that just has not worked," she said. Advocates concede that the bill is unlikely to pass this session, but you have to start somewhere.

Medical Marijuana

American Herbal Pharmacopeia Classifies Marijuana as Botanical Medicine. The world's leading expert organization on herbal medicine, the American Herbal Pharmacopeia, has released the first part of a two-part monograph on marijuana that classifies it as a botanical medicine, alongside many other accepted complementary and alternative medicines. Americans for Safe Access calls it a "historic move" and will host a Google Hangout Thursday at 5:30pm PT to discuss its ramifications.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Regulation Panel Meets for Last Time. The committee charged with creating Oregon's first statewide medical marijuana dispensary regulations is meeting for what is supposed to be the last time today. The panel has been meeting since September to craft rules around security, background checks, and marijuana testing. A 30-page draft version of the rules should be finalized.

Guam Medical Marijuana Bill Gets Another Hearing Today. Guam residents will have another chance to voice their opinions on medical marijuana at a hearing set for today. Sen. Tina Muna Barnes has introduced a measure, Bill 215, that would allow the use of medical marijuana for various illnesses. The hearing starts at 5:30pm Guam time.

Drug Testing

Pennsylvania School Employee Drug Testing Bill Passes House. A bill that would require prospective public school employees to submit to drug testing passed the House Tuesday. The ACLU of Pennsylvania calls House Bill 810 "invasive, impractical, and unconstitutional" and vows to challenge it -- and win -- if it ever becomes law. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Harm Reduction

Human Rights Watch Report Slams Louisiana Laws, Police Practices as Increasing AIDS Toll. Human Rights Watch issued a report Wednesday charging that Louisiana laws and practices that bar access to clean needles and criminalize sex work contribute to a raging HIV epidemic and a very high AIDS death rate. The report is In Harm's Way: State Response to Sex Workers, Drug Users, and HIV in New Orleans.

Push Is On for Naloxone and Good Samaritan Law in Minnesota. Elected officials and members of law enforcement called Tuesday for new state laws that would allow deputies to carry and administer the overdose reversal drug Naloxone and provide legal protections for people who contact authorities to report a drug overdose. The moves are a response to a rising toll of heroin overdose deaths, particularly in the Twin Cities.

International

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana Commerce. The Uruguayan Senate Tuesday night gave final approval to the government's marijuana legalization bill. Now, once President Jose Mujica signs it into law, Uruguay will be 120 days away from a legal commerce in marijuana.

UN Anti-Drug Bureaucrats Say Uruguay Legalization Breaks Treaty. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reacted unhappily to Uruguay's Tuesday night legalization vote. "Uruguay is breaking international conventions on drug control with the cannabis legislation approved by its congress," the INCB complained in a Wednesday press release. The INCB qualified itself as "surprised" that Uruguay had "knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed legal provisions of the treaty."

Russian Drug Czar Says Drug Legalization "Impossible." Reacting to Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana, Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Service for Drug Control, said the legalization of any drug is "impossible, and I think it will not be possible" in Russia. "Moreover, we have strengthened our political will with an anti-drug strategy," he added, although he also said it was possible that Russia could grow hemp and low opiate content poppies for agricultural purposes.

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana! [FEATURE]

The Uruguayan Senate voted Tuesday to approve a government-sponsored bill to legalize marijuana commerce. The Senate vote was the final vote needed for the bill to pass; all amendments to the bill were defeated previous to Tuesday's debate, so it now goes to the desk of President Jose Mujica, who supports it.

Once Mujica signs the bill into law, it will go into effect in 120 days.

The Broad Front coalition government headed by Mujica first introduced the plan to legalize marijuana a year and a half ago as part of a broader package of measures designed to reduce the crime and violence associated with the black market drug trade. After retooling in the face of significant opposition, the bill passed the lower chamber of Congress in July.

Uruguay now becomes the first signatory to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to break with the UN on the issue of marijuana legalization. The Netherlands has turned a blind eye to small-scale retail sales for decades now, but such acts remain formally illegal so the Dutch can remain in formal compliance with the treaty.

Under the bill, the Uruguayan government will regulate the importation, cultivation, harvesting, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Would-be pot smokers will have to register with the government in order to grow their own (up to six plants), grow it collectively in a club, or buy up to 40 grams a month at a pharmacy.

The bill was not without opposition. During debate Tuesday, Colorado Party Sen. Alfredo Solari, a former health minister, said that children and teens would be able to more easily obtain marijuana.

"The effects of this policy on public health will be terrible," he warned.

But Broad Front Sen. Roberto Conde retorted that easy access to marijuana is already the status quo.

"Marijuana is already established in Uruguay," he said. "It's a drug that is already seen as very low risk and enormously easy to get."

Opposition didn't just come from conservative lawmakers. Some marijuana users aren't very keen on the idea of having to register with the state in order to legally obtain their drug of choice.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica
But President Mujica and the Broad Front argued that the bill would weaken drug traffickers and help reduce the estimated $80 million a year the country spends fighting drugs and imprisoning traffickers. The estimated 128,000 Uruguayan pot smokers (user groups have a higher estimate of around 200,000) make up the largest illicit drug market in the country.

The government is vowing to entice consumers with marijuana that is both cheaper and of higher quality than that produced by the black market, most of which comes from Paraguay, which produces plentiful but low-grade crops.

"We are keeping in mind the prices on the black market, until we start to dismantle the functioning of the market," said Julio Calzada, secretary of the National Drug Board.

"This law will return us to the vanguard of Latin America," added Broad Front Sen. Constanza Moreira. "For many of us, today is a historic day. Many countries in Latin America, and many governments will take this law as an example."

Uruguay's move to legalize the marijuana business won accolades from drug reformers around the globe. In an open letter organized by the International Drug Policy Consortium,114 civil society organizations from around the world welcomed the vote.

"The path taken by Uruguay establishes the basis for a new paradigm in drug policy," the groups said. "The organizations that have promoted these changes cannot ignore the efforts undertaken by the Uruguayan state. We will support Uruguay and every other state and jurisdiction as they seek to develop more sensible drug policies to tackle the problems related to health and security of their citizens, in full respect with international human rights treaties."

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the policy manager for the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. "For 40 years, marijuana prohibition has been attempted and it simply hasn't worked. But rather than closing their eyes to the problem of drug abuse and drug trafficking, Uruguay has chosen responsible regulation of an existing reality. Let's hope others soon follow suit!"

"We applaud President Mujica and members of the Uruguayan General Assembly for their leadership on this important issue," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Support for regulating marijuana and taking it out of the underground market is not only growing in the United States, but also internationally. It will not be long before more states and nations decide to end marijuana prohibition."

"Marijuana prohibition creates underground markets that generate billions of dollars in tax-free revenue for violent drug cartels and traffickers," Riffle said. "Regulating marijuana will allow authorities to control it and ensure profits are being used to benefit communities instead of criminals."

Uruguay has just punched a big hole in the edifice of global marijuana prohibition. Who is going to be next?

Montevideo
Uruguay

Chronicle AM -- December 10, 2013

African-American faith leaders observe International Human Rights Day by calling for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration, Texans are ready for criminal justice reform, and Mexico's prohibition-related violence continues apace. And more. Let's get to it:

African American faith leaders called Tuesday for an end to the drug war and mass incarceration. (sdpconference.info)
Medical Marijuana

Michigan Medical Marijuana Bills Pass House Committee. A pair of bills that would allow for the use of medical marijuana-infused products, as well as legalizing dispensaries for cannabis, passed the House Judiciary committee Tuesday morning on unanimous votes. A third bill, which would allow pharmacies to produce and sell medical marijuana, also passed, but on an 8-1 vote. With the legislature adjourning for the year Thursday, it's unlikely they will get final votes before then.

Law Enforcement

California Appeals Court Rules Only Prosecutors -- Not Police -- Can Initiate Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. California's 5th District Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled last week that police agencies cannot initiate asset forfeiture proceedings, which must instead be undertaken by prosecutors. Police had seized $16,000 in cash from Adolfo Cuevas and a friend sitting in a car and moved to forfeit it when traces of methamphetamine were found on a $5 bill. Only prosecutors can make that call, the court held. The case is Cuevas v. Superior Court of Tulare County.

Pain Pills

American College of Physicians Calls for Pain Med Contracts, Database, Educational Programs. In a policy paper released Tuesday, Prescription Drug Abuse, the American College of Physicians set out 10 policy positions and recommendations aimed at reducing "the significant human and financial costs related to prescription drug abuse." They include supporting a national prescription drug monitoring program, more education and prevention efforts for doctors and patients, and considering the use of written agreements ("pain contracts") for doctors and patients when treating pain. [Ed: Patient advocates often regard databases and pain contracts with suspicion. We commonly receive reports about pain contracts in particular having a chilling effect on the availability of pain medication for patients who need it. It is not clear whether this paper fully considers the plight commonly suffered by pain patients because of the war on drugs.]

Sentencing

On International Human Rights Day, Black Leaders Call for End to Drug War, Mass Incarceration. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, a major grouping of African-American faith leaders, called for an end to the war on drugs and mass incarceration Tuesday, International Human Rights Day. The call came as the group released key findings from a series of community-based hearings on mass incarceration it has held around the nation. Click on the link for the recommendations.

Poll: Texans Ready to Reform Drug Punishments. A poll released Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation finds that nearly four out five (79%) Texans support drug treatment instead of prison for people caught possessing drugs. The poll also found overwhelming (84%) support for broader criminal justice reforms in the state.

International

Mexican Drug War Deaths Show No Decline. One year after Enrique Pena Nieto assumed office as president of Mexico, the deadly prohibition-related violence that has plagued the country for the past six years shows no sign of abating. According to Frontera NorteSur, citing Mexican press reports, there were 19,016 people killed in the drug violence in the first 11 months of Pena Nieto's term, compared to 18,161 during the last 11 months of Felipe Calderon's government. The violence also appears to have shifted geographically, from border states to states in the south and center of the country.

Cambodia Drug Detention Centers Rife With Abuse

Cambodian authorities illegally imprison hundreds of drug users and other "undesirables" in detention centers where they don't get drug treatment but instead face torture, sexual abuse, and forced labor, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Sunday. The rights group called for the centers to be closed immediately.

Cambodian "intervention" truck rounding up drug users and other "undesirables" in Phnom Penh. (hrw.org)
The report, "They Treat Us Like Animals": Mistreatment of Drug Users and 'Undesirables'in Cambodia's Drug Detention Centers, documents the experiences of people recently confined in the centers, who described being thrashed with rubber water hoses and hit with sticks or branches. Some described being punished with exercises intended to cause intense physical pain and humiliation, such as crawling along stony ground or standing in septic water pits.

Former female detainees described rape and other sexual abuse by male guards. Many detainees said they were forced to work unpaid in the centers -- and in some cases, on construction sites -- and those who refused were beaten.

"The only 'treatment' people in Cambodia's drug detention centers receive is being beaten, bruised, and forced to work," said Joseph Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "The government uses these centers as dumping grounds for beggars, sex workers, street children, and other 'undesirables,' often in advance of high-profile visits by foreign dignitaries."

The report identified eight of the drug detention centers and is based on interviews with 33 people who had been held in them. It wasn't just drug users, either. According to the report, authorities also use the drug detention centers to hold homeless people, beggars, street children, sex workers, and people with disabilities.

People interviewed said they saw unaccompanied children as young as six in the detention centers. The children were held in the same rooms as adults, forced to perform exhausting physical exercises and military-like drills, chained, and beaten.

"The government admits that 10% of those held in the centers are children under 18," Amon said. "Children who use drugs or who live on the streets should be protected from harm, not locked up, beaten, and abused."

Human Rights Watch issued a similar report on drug detention center abuses in 2010, Skin on the Cable, which focused national and international attention to the issue of compulsory drug dependency "treatment" centers in the country. Following that report, the United Nations and donor agencies condemned the lack of due process and abusive treatment in centers in Cambodia and the region, while Cambodian government officials largely sought to dismiss the report as "untrue."

A dozen UN agencies issued a joint statement last year calling on countries with such centers "to close them without delay and release the individuals detained," but Cambodian authorities have not responded to that call, nor have they investigated or prosecuted anyone over the reports of torture and abuse at the centers.

"The Cambodian government should conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, and forced labor in its drug detention centers," Human Rights Watch said. "In line with the 2012 UN agency statement, everyone detained in the centers should immediately be released and all the centers closed. The government should replace the centers with expanded access to voluntary, community-based drug treatment."

Cambodia

Chronicle AM -- December 9, 2013

A West Virginia man gets a first degree murder charge in his wife's accidental drug death, a Utah "Good Samaritan" overdose bill is moving, some US senators grumble about Zohydro ER, and we have a pair of stories about opiates in India. And more. Let's get to it:

Zohydro ER
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts High Court Rules against Prosecutors in Small-Time Marijuana Cases. Possession of up to an ounce of pot is decriminalized in Massachusetts, even if that less-than-an-ounce amount is divided up in separate baggies. The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last month that possessing small amounts of marijuana in separate baggies is not sufficient evidence to charge someone with possession with intent to distribute. Prosecutors are grumbling.

Harm Reduction

Utah "Good Samaritan" Drug Overdose Bill Moving. A bill that would provide limited criminal immunity for people who report a drug overdose has passed the Criminal Justice Committee and will be taken up by the full legislature when it reconvenes next month. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D-Holladay) and has the backing of harm reductionists and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors alike. There were more than 500 drug overdose deaths in Utah last year.

Law Enforcement

COPS Program Worried About Police Militarization. Cop-watcher Radley Balko notes that the monthly newsletter of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program is raising the alarm about the militarization of policing in the US. Balko cites a warning from COPS program senior policy analyst Karl Bickel: "Police chiefs and sheriffs may want to ask themselves -- if after hiring officers in the spirit of adventure, who have been exposed to action oriented police dramas since their youth, and sending them to an academy patterned after a military boot camp, then dressing them in black battle dress uniforms and turning them loose in a subculture steeped in an 'us versus them' outlook toward those they serve and protect, while prosecuting the war on crime, war on drugs, and now a war on terrorism -- is there any realistic hope of institutionalizing community policing as an operational philosophy?"

West Virginia Man Faces First Degree Murder Charge in Wife's Drug Overdose Death. Prosecutors have charged a Roane County man with first degree murder in the accidental drug overdose of his wife. Todd Honaker thought he was buying LSD, but instead gave his wife the synthetic drug 25b-NBOMe ("N-bomb"). The man who supplied the drug has been charged with delivery of a controlled substance. It's not clear why Honaker is facing such severe charges.

Pain Pills

Four Senators Scold FDA on Zohydro Approval. Four US senators have sent a letter to the FDA saying they disagree with its decision to approve Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of the pain reliever hydrocodone. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the decision "will only contribute to the rising toll of addiction and death" caused by the misuse of prescription drugs. Zohydro can be crushed and snorted by people seeking a strong, quick high, which the senators called "irresponsible." [Ed: As the item immediately below about pain control in India demonstrates, poorly conceived control measures can and do have a devastating impact on the lives of pain patients who end up under-medicated or un-medicated. We have this problem in the US too. Other measures than bans are needed to address prescription drug misuse -- the FDA was right to approve Zohydro.]

International

Less Than 4% of Indians Suffering From Chronic Cancer Pain Have Access to Morphine. Legal restrictions on access to opioid pain medications leave millions of Indians suffering from severe and chronic pain without access to relief, leading to an "epidemic of pain in India." Ironically, India produces 99% of the global supply of licit opium, most of which it exports.

Indian Authorities Warn of Rising Opium Cultivation in Northeast. Illicit opium production is on the rise in states such as Manipur and Nagaland, Indian drug experts said at a Saturday conference in Guwahati. Cultivation was increasing both as a cash crop and for personal consumption, the experts said. In some villages, between 60% and 90% of families were growing opium, they said.

Uruguay Legalizes Marijuana Tomorrow!

Tuesday is looking to be historic.

Tomorrow, the Uruguayan Senate will vote on a bill that would make their country the first in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults. The bill was approved in the House of Representatives in July with 50 out of 96 votes. Once approved in Senate, Uruguay will have 120 days to write the regulations before implementing the law.

Two US states -- Colorado and Washington -- have already legalized marijuana, but this will mark the first time a signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs has broken so directly with its prohibitionist consensus. (A handful of countries have not signed the convention.)

The Drug Policy Alliance, which has been working with the Uruguayans, has a few preliminary comments.

"It's about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach. By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world," said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Last year, Colorado and Washington; this year, Uruguay; and next year, Oregon and hopefully more states as well," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We still have a long way to go but who would have believed, just five years ago, that legalizing marijuana would have become a mainstream political reality both in the United States and abroad?!"

Indeed.

Montevideo
Uruguay

DPA Files California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, But… [FEATURE]

A California marijuana legalization initiative backed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) was filed Wednesday with the state attorney general's office. But the national drug reform group said it has not yet decided whether to campaign to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It would also impose a 25% tax on retail sales.

A year ago, in the wake of the legalization victories in Colorado and Washington, major players in the California marijuana reform movement, including California NORML, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the ACLU of California, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, and late drug policy reform funder Peter Lewis's representative, Graham Boyd, met in San Francisco and came to a tentative agreement that they would work together toward putting an initiative on the ballot in 2016.

Reluctant to risk another defeat at the ballot box like Proposition 19 in 2010, the movement heavyweights jointly decided to let other states take the lead in 2014 rather than act precipitously and potentially see the reform movement suffer a major blow with another defeat in the nation's most populous state.

But momentum in favor of marijuana legalization was growing quickly, as evidenced by a September Gallup poll's 58% in favor of legalization nationally and polls out of red states like Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas showing majority support. That was also the case in California, with a September Public Policy Institute of California poll showing 60% of registered voters favoring legalization and an October Tulchin poll that had support for legalization at 65% among likely voters.

Those numbers prompted some key players to reconsider, especially given that two other marijuana legalization initiatives -- not vetted by the heavyweights -- are already floating around. The first, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, the perennial effort by acolytes of the late Jack Herer, is in the signature gathering phase, but shows little sign of having the financial wherewithal to actually gather enough signatures to make the ballot. The second, the Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Regulation Act of 2014, described by its proponents as "the world's first open source initiative," is pending approval at the attorney general's office after its proponents handed in its second amended version Friday.

Now DPA has stepped in with its own 2014 initiative. "The Drug Policy Alliance is the primary force behind this and primary drafter of this initiative," said Steve Gutwillig, DPA's deputy director of programs. "We wanted to make sure that a responsible and well-drafted initiative would be available in 2014 should a full-fledged campaign become possible. Filing this initiative is making sure that there is a viable initiative vehicle if we go forward in 2014. We think it reflects what the voters will support."

Gutwillig emphasized that no decision to move forward had been made, but that one would be forthcoming early next year.

The clock is ticking. The deadline for gathering signatures for November 2014 is April, and given that state officials have up to 60 days to return a ballot summary and let signature gathering commence, that means the window for signature gathering could be as short as three months. With more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to make the ballot, that would be a daunting and very expensive prospect.

It may still be better to wait for 2016, said Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML.

"I don't see that this does much for patients or consumers," he said. "The fact that we have three initiatives proposed for 2014 shows a relative lack of unity and a lack of adequate consultation among the various groups. And it's really late in the day."

Gieringer pointed to language leaving the state's medical marijuana system intact as one issue. "We would have two systems, one with a special tax, one without," he noted. "Guess which one most people would patronize. The legislature might respond by getting rid of collectives or dispensaries. Medical marijuana regulation is the elephant in the room, and these are complicated issues that will require consultation by a lot of interest groups."

He also counseled patience.

"People started panicking when those strong poll numbers came out in the fall and started thinking 'Gee, this is really feasible,'" Gieringer said. "But it was so late in the day that people couldn't really get together and plan and vet to come up with a well-conceived plan. This is a stab in the dark, especially until we see how Colorado and Washington play out, especially the tax and regulate part. How is this going to work in the marketplace? Will people patronize highly taxed marijuana shops or not?"

The DPA effort may not be the perfect marijuana legalization initiative -- that elusive creature has yet to be spotted -- but it is out there now, at least as a place holder. The other two initiatives appear unlikely to actually make the ballot, so the decisions made early next year by DPA and its allies are likely to determine if California votes on marijuana legalization next year or not.

CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

A New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Filed. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act was filed with the California attorney general's office Wednesday. It would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It's not clear, however, whether its backers will seek to gather signatures for 2014 or will use it as a place marker for 2016. Another legalization initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is in the signature-gathering phase, but lacks deep-pocketed financial backing.

Thinking About a Post-Pot Prohibition World. Martin Lee, the author of Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, about the cultural histories of LSD and marijuana, respectively, writes about marijuana legalization as a beginning, not an end, and has some interesting and provocative thoughts about what should come next.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Florida Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments on whether the proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana should go on the November 2014 ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) had challenged it as misleading and in violation of federal law. The justices did not decide the issue, but a decision will be coming shortly.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Needs a Lot of Signatures in a Hurry. The state Division of Elections reported Thursday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative, has just under 137,000 signatures that have been validated. They need 683,149 by February. There is some lag between signatures gathered and signatures validated, and organizers say they have collected 400,000 signatures so far. But that means they need probably another 400,000 in just a few weeks just to have a cushion that would allow for the inevitable invalid signatures.

International

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Struggling. Sensible BC's signature-gathering campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot in British Columbia looks like it is going to fall short. The group needs 310,000 valid signatures by Monday, but only has 150,000 gathered. But if they don't make it this time, that won't be the end of it. "Sensible BC is here to stay," said the group's Dana Larsen. "You can be quite sure we're going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don't succeed this time. We're not going away."

Report Says SE Asia Amphetamine Use is Fueling Rise in HIV Risk. An increase in injection use of amphetamines in Southeast Asia is raising the risk of the spread of HIV and requires "urgent" action, according to a new report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee. Not only injection drug use, but risky sexual behavior as well among amphetamine users, is part of the problem, the report says.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Filed

Activists with Show-Me Cannabis have been crisscrossing Missouri to lay the groundwork for marijuana legalization, and now, they've taken the next step. Columbia-based attorney Dan Viets, the group's chairman Wednesday filed a series of initiatives that would legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/show-me-cannabis-regulation.jpg
Show-Me Cannabis logo (show-mecannabis.com
The initiatives are all variations on a theme; all would legalize marijuana for persons 21 and over, but vary on the number of plants allowed to be grown, whether convictions of previous offenders should be expunged, and how to regulate advertising. Show-Me Cannabis Reform will do polling to see which has the most support among Missourians.

The initiative petitions must be approved by the secretary of state's office, and after that, the office has 10 days to approve draft ballot summary language. Even if approved, initiative supporters face a daunting task. To qualify for the ballot, organizers must collect the signatures of roughly 320,000 registered voters by May 4 and they must gather signatures from at least 8% of registered voters in six of the state's eight US congressional districts.

Show-Me Cannabis Reform has commissioned polling that shows majority support for marijuana legalization. A September 2012 poll had legalization winning 50%-45%, with support climbing to 54% when respondents were given more information. Still, that is outside the comfort level for most initiative-watchers, who will argue that initiatives should be polling at least 60% at the beginning of the campaign.

But Show-Me Cannabis Reform is undaunted and moving forward. While some marijuana reform-friendly state legislators would prefer that lawmakers deal with the issue instead of voters, the group doesn't want to wait for the legislature to get around to it.

"We believe the legislature is totally out of touch with the voters of Missouri on this," Viets told the Columbia Missourian Wednesday.

Columbia, MO
United States

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